‘Why are you watching with subtitles?’ I ask the Nearly-Beloved. Could it be he has actually conceded his hearing is not what it used to be? Can I finally read the paper in peace in the kitchen without the accompaniment of a sports commentary blaring out from the living room? Apparently, not. The sound is still on heavy metal volume. But the language is unfamiliar.
‘I didn’t know you were a fan of Japanese anime,’ I say, bemused. Unfortunately, ‘Princess Mononoke’ is as popular with my republican husband as our homegrown black sheep royals. It turns out it’s Grunting Teen who’s the Studio Ghibli fan. Only he’s forgotten to switch back to the terrestrial channels his parents are more familiar with. And the Nearly-Beloved doesn’t have as much expertise with the remote control as he claims.
Personally, I gave up on the ‘zapper’ several years ago. This was when, overnight, it cloned into three identical replicas of itself. Apparently, one hooks up to the TV, another operates the DVD and the third is wired to unknown zones in the ether. It’s all beyond my comprehension and one of the few benefits of having an adolescent living in the house. You see, Grunting Teen is the First Footman to my Scullery Maid. In exchange for cooking and laundry duties, he organises my screen time.
Some may call it giving in to ineptitude but I quite enjoy being waited on for a change. It’s my mother’s queenly prerogative. And even if my servant attempts an occasional uprising, I just have to whisper the words ‘Food, clothing, taxi duties…,’ and he soon remembers his place.
‘See, mum,’ he tells me, as I settle down for a night’s viewing, ‘I’ve set everything up for ‘Call the Midwife’ and the volume is just right. So, don’t let Dad go anywhere near the zapper, otherwise I won’t be able to concentrate on the PS4 upstairs.’ Just as well then that his father wouldn’t be seen dead watching ‘that rubbish’.
But today the Second Footman is in charge and, I’m sad to say, definitely second best at the job. There’s no lightning-fast hand-eye coordination here. Just a lot of muttering and slow finger plonking. My attempts at help result in the DVD player groaning into action and the quick confiscation of remote-control number three. When I suggest calling for backup, I’m met with a stubborn glare. The Nearly-Beloved continues pressing random buttons that light up, switching the picture on the screen from an Imperial palace to an advert for Pizza Express. Then suddenly we are on Netflix, followed by a YouTube climbing video and, before we know it, we’ve set up a series-recording of Peppa Pig. And all this to cinematic Dolby stereo sound that I suspect may soon have the neighbours banging on the wall.
As the time ticks closer to the opening credits of ‘Match of the Day’, the Nearly-Beloved concedes defeat. The First Footman is summoned and, with a smirk, restores order at the push of a button. ‘I don’t want you to do it for me,’ grumbles his father, ‘just show me, so I can do it myself.’ But Grunting Teen is no foolish lackey. He knows that ‘he who controls the zapper, controls the household’. Bowing mockingly in his father’s direction, he disappears upstairs quicker than the subtitles from the screen. I too disappear. This time to the attic.
At least there I won’t be able to hear a blow-by-blow account of the match. And yet, after a while, the silence is all pervading. It’s too quiet. I retrace my steps and peer round the living room door where the football is in full play but the crowds are unusually muted.
‘Why are you watching with subtitles?’ I ask in surprise.
The Nearly-Beloved smiles. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever understood a word Roy Keane or Ally McCoist have said…’